How This Tech Founder Keeps His Business Afloat With Employees in a War Zone
When Jacob Udodov, a Riga, Latvia-based entrepreneur, founded his team collaboration software company, Bordio, in late 2019, he deliberately built an international team across Europe. While it’s been a great way to hire top talent, the drawback of the strategy came into full relief on February 24, 2022. That’s the day Russia invaded Ukraine and his small 20-person team–comprised of six Russian and six Ukrainian employees among them–met its match, putting the upstart tech firm into compromising positions on an almost daily basis. –As told to Rebecca Deczynski
My wife had woken me up the morning of February 24 telling me that Russia had invaded Ukraine, and I immediately got on my work chat. Team members from different parts of Ukraine–Kharkiv, Kherson, Poltava, and Kyiv–had sent messages about hearing explosions. There were also messages from Russian teammates that were sent in support of their Ukrainian colleagues; they said they were ashamed of the actions of their country, and asked what they could do to help.
The events of the day were dramatic but not altogether surprising. One of my Ukrainian employees lives in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014. So, I started following the news when, on February 18, Russian separatists announced that residents of the region needed to evacuate to Russia. At that moment, I understood that something big was going to happen.
Shortly after the invasion began, I wrote to my Ukrainian staff and told them to not worry about work–they were free to take paid time off and do whatever they had to do to move out west and stay safe. Several of them moved, including one developer from Kharkiv, who, after the city was attacked, said it was the best decision he’s made his entire life. [Editor’s note: Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been one of the most-targeted regions by Russian forces. It is still under attack, and at least 500 civilians have been killed in the city.]
After a few days, some of my Ukrainian staff started working again, just for a few hours a day. In addition to the shock and the emotion of the experience, there are difficulties, like WiFi outages and bomb sirens that signal that they need to take shelter.
I asked my other employees if they would be willing to pitch in some extra help, which they were more than willing to do. I also reached out to former employees, who have left the company within the past year, to get temporary help from them. Now, we’re in a better place.
One thing that remains challenging is figuring out a way to pay our Russian employees, which is controversial. The bank we used had banned payments to Russia, and it took some time before we found another one that allowed us to successfully pay these workers. Even though our Russian teammates are totally against the actions of their government, they are affected by sanctions.
It’s horrible to say, but we’ve gotten used to the war in a way–it’s the reality we’re living in. I’m glad that my team was entirely united in our support for the Ukrainians, and we will continue to be supportive until this is over.